JERSEY CITY — City officials are at work on a plan to create a walking trail around its 1,300-acre reservoir in Morris County, a plan that Mayor Steve Fulop says would make the reservoir safer but one that has alarmed some local conservationists.
Fed by the Rockaway River, the reservoir opened in 1904 to provide Jersey City with drinking water. It is completely fenced in, but Fulop hopes to turn the public land into recreational space similar to the reservoirs for Brick and Manasquan, which Monmouth County says is the most visited park in its system.
“It’s a great JC asset that will serve conservationists, school children + surrounding community,” Fulop said on Twitter.
The city wants to hire nonprofit Open Space Institute to study the reservoir property and come up with the plan. Some members of the City Council, which would have to approve the contract with Open Space Institute, and of the city’s environmental commission have said they fear opening the reservoir to the public would result in potential contamination. Alison Cucco, the environmental commission chair, wrote a letter to Open Space Institute on July 18 outlining its concerns.
“The areas (of) the Rockaway River open to the public are heavily littered with all sorts of trash which is barely kept in check by periodic cleanups conducted by the ‘Friends of the Rockaway,’ a voluntary group that over the last few years has removed over 200 tons of trash,” Cucco wrote. “One of our concerns is that a similar fate would await the reservoir if it were opened to the public without proper supervision and enforcement.”
The New Jersey Sierra Club supports the idea, saying in a statement that reservoirs “are wonderful, protected areas of open space” that should not be cut off from the public.
The reservoir is located in Boonton and Parsippany, just northeast of where Routes 46 and 287 intersect. The water accounts for about 900 acres of the property.
Parsippany Mayor Michael Soriano supports the project, saying it would give his police force the authority to patrol the area, which he said is a magnet for trespassers.
“I see this as a win-win situation,” Soriano told The Jersey Journal.
Terrence Nolan, of Open Space Institute, presented the walking trail idea to council members on July 16. Nolan downplayed concerns about potential water contamination, noting that the water is treated after it leaves the reservoir.
Councilman Michael Yun said he would not support the project at all. Councilman James Solomon suggested the city create more recreational opportunities at the reservoir in the Heights, which is no longer used for drinking water.
“If we’re going to put a lot of time and effort into turning a reservoir space into a park, I’d like it to be in Jersey City,” Solomon said.
Nolan told council members that Soriano supports the plan, which elicited a crack from City Clerk Robert Byrne.
“I’m sure he does. He wants his folks to have a running trail,” Byrne said.
Asked to respond, Soriano said Byrne “can be as bombastic or pissy as he wants.”
“Yes, I would like a running trail here, not just for my residents but for the entire region and the clerk himself is welcome to come up here and run,” Soriano said.